Friday, 5 October 2012

Lessons learned part 2

5. Usability

The recent JISC programme round-up in Birmingham highlighted a number of potential common problems or issues thrown up by the projects including the practicality of APIs and licensing, but I would add user experience to the list.

Linked Data discussions in the field of libraries, archives and museums have generally, and until recently, been confined to discussion of the complex technical challenges involved in making systems work. This is understandable, but recent discussions such as those held at the 2nd Linked Data in Libraries conference in Edinburgh on 21st September, have focused attention on making Linked Data as comprehensible and usable as possible by the general public.Papers on the consumption of data included introductions to the important work on visualisation currently under way. Linked Data provides the opportunity to move beyond the conventional cataloguing paradigm and its corollary, published lists and tables of data that risk being seen as visually unappealing and stodgy (sometimes unfairly). The complex relationships described in Linked Data don't translate easily to tables but rather lend themselves to the dynamic graphs and representations now becoming common, for example in the display of statistics by national governments.Linked Data provides an opportunity to begin to see data in new ways for library, archive and museum users.

Fundamentally, for Linked Data to be more widely adopted, there need to be a focus on the user experience and demonstrating the value added by combining sources, mapping sources using Linked Data and other practical improvements.

Step change set out to address the usability concern from the outset, but the project has highlighted how much work needs to be done in this area. CALM improvements include the display of relevant external links alongside catalogue records - for example British National Bibliography entries. User testing established that archivists need to exercise discretion in the links they set up and make visible (whatever is happening in the back-end).Links must work (accurate and complete data is returned speedily), but must also be relevant (for example appropriate to the level of record being displayed). Branding starts becoming important to distinguish the origin of data and mitigate a tendency for users to view the data in archives, libraries and museums websites as coming from that one source (that repository). Users will need to start viewing such websites more as they have learned to interrogate a page of Google search returns (as coming from multiple sources). A simple 'Linked Data' logo should be adopted to provide users with a shorthand way of recognising that an additional level of useful information is now available and can be trusted (because an information professional has actively check the source and chosen to link it).

Next steps:

Further user testing is now under way following the release of the Linked Data CALM and its front-end. This will take place in Cumbria involving users of CALM and members of the public familiar with the current archive website. This will drive improvements ready for the release of CALM version 10. Work is under way on creating RDFa and the rendering of selected terms to display useful external content in an attractive way, while not confusing the user with excess information.

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